Shedding Some Light on Snake Sheds

Snake sheds are something that many of us have seen, whether out on a trail or at a nature center. But why do snakes shed their skin to begin with?
Video: Learn all about snake sheds and meet SOLE Educator Snake Horace!

As animals, we all shed our skin to some degree, whether it’s exposure to the sun or particles that come off when we bathe. But, the way snakes do it is entirely different.

Snakes like other reptiles have scales that allow them to move, keep moisture and offer general protection to their body. Scales aren’t the snake’s skin but actually a layer of protection above it. These scales are made up of a strong protein called keratin, the same material that makes up human hair or fingernails. It feels dry to the touch rather than slimy like some might think.

Scientists call the process of shedding skin ecdysis and it’s only for snakes. During ecdysis, snakes develop a dull bluish-white appearance just before they begin to shed. And that’s because snakes don’t have eyelids like that of mammals and cannot blink. So instead, their eyes are protected by a thin layer scale called the spectacle. This can cause a change of behavior for the snake, including increased anxiety. Imagine having your eyes covered up if you were used to seeing out of them. That might make you a little on edge too.

Snakes shed their scales in order to help them grow and get rid of damage and unwanted parasites. The process usually takes about one or two weeks and can happen throughout the year.

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Schools and Outdoor Learning Environments (SOLE)
SOLE is designed to increase interest and participation in the outdoors by connecting Colorado students and families to environmental education programs and outdoor locations. The program, directed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, is funded by Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO). To learn more about SOLE, please visit the SOLE website.

By Elizabeth Engel. Elizabeth is an Education Assistant for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Schools and Outdoor Learning Environments (SOLE) program.

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